German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier embarked yesterday on a trip to Georgia and Russia to float an international peace plan aimed at ending a dangerous dispute over the separatist Georgian region of Abkhazia.
Steinmeier was bound first for Tbilisi and later the Black Sea city of Batumi to hold talks with the Georgian government and opposition figures before traveling today to Abkhazia, where he was expected to meet local leaders.
The trip will then take him to Moscow for talks with his Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.
“Germany has long been engaged in trying to find a peaceful resolution to the conflict,” German foreign ministry spokesman Andreas Peschke told reporters on Wednesday, adding that the visit was part of international efforts to cool tempers in the region. “The goal of the trip is to find with all the affected parties ways out of the logic of escalation, out of this spiral of constantly escalating incidents.”
Tensions have soared in recent months over Tbilisi’s bid to join NATO and Moscow’s support for two separatist territories, Abkhazia and South Ossetia, which broke away from the rest of Georgia in the 1990s.
Berlin chairs the UN secretary-general’s Group of Friends of Georgia, which also includes Britain, France, Russia and the US.
Germany has drawn up a three-stage plan to settle the conflict between Georgia and Abkhazia. The steps would entail an end to violence and confidence-building measures as well as the return of about 25,000 Georgian refugees to Abkhazia, German media reports said.
The second stage would involve developing joint reconstruction projects, while the third and most difficult step would determine Abkhazia’s future status.
German diplomatic sources said the trip would involve vetting specific initial steps with all sides to find a viable way forward.
The speaker of the Georgian parliament, David Bakradze, hailed Steinmeier’s visit late on Wednesday as “a serious step towards modernization of the [Russia-led] peacekeeping operation format” in Abkhazia and South Ossetia.
However, “at this stage it is premature to talk about implementation of the three-stage [conflict resolution] plan proposed by Germany,” Bakradze told reporters.
Abkhaz leader Sergei Bagapsh, whom Steinmeier was expected to meet today, said this week he would not “consider the plan,” Russian news agencies said.
“We do not intend to discuss Abkhazia’s political status with anyone. We are constructing an independent and democratic state,” Interfax quoted Bagapsh as saying.
Steinmeier met with visiting UN chief Ban Ki-moon on Tuesday and called Lavrov and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice this week to discuss Abkhazia.